Telstra starts small with office e-waste recycling

Talent Nation's CEO and an employee filling an eCycle box
Strengthening its product stewardship credentials on the technology it sells and its customers use, Telstra is heralding the success of its latest e-waste recycling program for small businesses, eCycle.

Technology hardware is one
of the fastest growing waste streams worldwide, with Australians among the highest users
 of IT equipment, mobile devices and consumer electronics.

In 2012/13, only 30 per cent – or 40,813 tonnes – of
the 137,756 tonnes of televisions and computers that reached their end of life in Australia were recycled. Therefore many of the non- renewable resources contained in these products, which could be recycled and reused, are lost to landfill. Meanwhile, the technology industry continues to use up more scarce, non-renewable materials to manufacture more products.

Given this situation, there has never been a greater need for businesses 
to demonstrate a strong stewardship approach to the full lifecycle of electrical and electronic products and the materials from which they’re made.

As Australia’s leading telecommunications company and a major retailer of consumer electronics, Telstra is working towards providing business-friendly solutions that directly tackle the issue of work- generated e-waste.

“Australia has product stewardship programs in place to better manage e-waste over time, but we see the need to explore more convenient and secure solutions, and in doing so help our customers to be good environment stewards,” says Telstra General Manager Environment Pauline Gregg.

A founding member of MobileMuster, Telstra has been providing free mobile phone and accessories recycling in its stores for nearly 20 years. It is now piloting an expansion of the scope of products it can recycle, particularly those that are typically used by small and medium sized businesses (SMEs).

Telstra eCycle

To support its aims, Telstra launched eCycle in May 2015. The eCycle initiative is a nationwide free collection and recycling program. It allows SMEs to de-clutter and dispose of their e-waste so that it is recycled responsibly under strict environmental and occupational health and safety standards.

Driven by selected Telstra Business Centres, the program involves eCycle boxes being made available to local businesses for collection of their old technology, where businesses can book a pick up through the dedicated support line or the eCycle website.

“It’s important that not only the products we sell, but any tech products our customers use, are recycled properly and don’t end up in a landfill,” says Telstra Executive Director Small Business Andy Giles-Knopp.

“Unfortunately many people don’t know how to get rid of old tech properly, so they either throw it out in their regular rubbish, or hold on to it and let it stack up. We created eCycle to give them a safe, secure and easy method for disposing of all that tech equipment,” he adds.

Talent Nation is one of more than 400 small businesses that have had their unwanted e-waste recovered and recycled since eCycle launched. The Melbourne-based executive search and recruitment company is a Certified B Corporation, which means it meets rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.

“As a conscious company that understands the importance of business sustainability, Talent Nation thinks about the equipment it uses and its ultimate fate, especially at end-of-life,” says the company’s CEO, Richard Evans.

In the past, Talent Nation had hoarded unwanted and redundant products in cupboards and storerooms for several years. Very occasionally, an employee would take the obsolete equipment down to a waste transfer station or recycling depot.

Benefits of participation

By participating in eCycle, Talent Nation was able to collect laptops, cables, mobile desk drives and telephones for recycling. The company also wanted to share the benefits of the program, so placed some eCycle boxes in the lobby to encourage other businesses in the building to participate in it.

“Collaboration is one of the keys to ensuring positive and ongoing environmental outcomes,” adds Richard.

The program has had several benefits for Talent Nation. Richard highlights that previously there hadn’t been an easy way to recycle electronic waste products, as exists for other waste streams like paper or ink cartridges. It also cleared some valuable office space, as some of these items had been sitting in cupboards for nearly eight years.

“Telstra eCycle provided a convenient solution that eliminated the need to drive to a recycling depot,” says Richard. “As an added bonus, being able to recycle electronics helps with Talent Nation’s B-Corp status of ensuring low impact, waste-wise operations.”

Richard concluded that the eCycle program is “effortless” for his company to take part in, adding that it’s logical for Telstra to offering a service like this “as technology providers should play a part in the product take-back process”.

Program outcomes

Telstra has partnered with ECOACTIV and SIMS Recycling Solutions to manage the collection and recycling of the old electronics. Mobile handsets, accessories and batteries are recycled through MobileMuster.

“These companies have been selected as they have demonstrated compliance with the highest environmental and social guidelines and standards,” states Pauline. This gives eCycle participants reassurance that their items collected for recycling are properly managed and aren’t landfilled, reused or resold.

More than 20,000 kilograms of IT hardware and small consumer electronics have been recovered through eCycle since launch, or the equivalent of over 110,000 smartphones or almost 10,000 13-inch laptops. The program has collected and recycled PCs, laptops, printers, faxes, servers, desk phones, wireless headsets, mobile devices and accessories, cabling, equipment batteries and smaller consumer electronics.

The collected products are being processed to recover valuable materials, such as precious metals, copper, zinc and aluminium, which can be used in the manufacture of a wide range of new products. More than 90 per cent of the e-waste collected is fully recyclable; for example, Australian Composite Technology uses the residue plastics from mobile handset casings to produce new composite plastic fence posts.

Recycling these unwanted or end-of- life IT products has avoided over 5.7 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions and placed 1.3 tonnes of valuable metals back into the manufacturing cycle.

Next steps  

Telstra reports that customer satisfaction with the program is very high, saying the volumes recovered and participation rate speaks for itself.

A limited time initiative that was originally due to close in November 2015, eCycle is now scheduled to end on 1 March.

Meanwhile, Telstra is preparing an Electronics Reuse and Recycling Strategy, which is due to be published in 2016. The short-term focus of this strategy is to harness the benefits of electronics reuse and recycling, while ensuring responsible disposal practices.

“We want to make it easier for our customers to do their thing by taking the hassle out of technology for them. eCycle isn’t just good for the environment, it gives companies one less thing to worry about so they can focus on running their business,” concludes Andy.

Longer term, Telstra says it plans to continue to pursue a product stewardship approach that recognises that manufacturers, importers, retailers, governments and consumers have shared responsibility for the environmental impacts of electronic products throughout their full life cycles. Helping customers with their IT product stewardship needs looks set to be part of that.

More information about eCycle is available on Telstra’s dedicated program website.

Photo shows Talent Nation CEO Richard Evans with an employee tidying up e-waste at the company’s office in Melbourne.

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